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The Lost Million

William Le Queux

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Lost MillionBy William Le QueuxPublished by George Newnes, Limited, London.This edition dated 1915.

  The Lost Million, by William Le Queux.


  ________________________________________________________________________THE LOST MILLION, BY WILLIAM LE QUEUX.



  "See! It's--it's in my kit-bag, over there! The thing--the Thing atwhich the whole world will stand aghast!"

  The thin, white-faced, grey-bearded man lying on his back in bed rousedhimself with difficulty, and with skinny finger pointed at his strongbut battered old leather bag lying in the corner of the small hotelbedroom.

  "The keys--on my chain--Mr Kemball--" he gasped faintly, his faceslowly flushing. "Open it, quick!--ah no! you can't deceive me, my dearfellow. I'm dying! I heard what the doctor told you--though he onlywhispered. But, Mr Kemball, although you are a young man, I--I'm goingto trust you with a--with a strange responsibility. I--I trust youbecause you were so very kind to me on board. They all shunned me--allsave you! They didn't know my real name,"--and the old man chuckledbitterly to himself--"and they were not likely to!"

  "You were unwell on the voyage, Mr Arnold, and it was surely my dutyto--"

  "Duty! What duty do you owe to me?--a perfect stranger--an adventurerfor aught you know!" cried the old fellow with whom I had formed such acurious friendship. "No, Mr Kemball, you have acted as a real man, asa friend--one of the few friends one meets in this hard, workadayworld," and he clutched wildly at his throat, while his sunken cheeksslowly assumed a hectic flush. "Unlock the bag--get it out--before--before I lose my senses," he added.

  I took from the dressing-table the bunch of keys attached to his steelwatch-chain, and was crossing the room towards the bag when heexclaimed--

  "Listen, Mr Kemball! I'm a dying man. Will you make a solemn promiseto me? Will you grant me one last earnest request? In half an hour--perhaps before--I shall be lying here dead. But I'm still alive--a manwho has seen much, who knows strange things--a man who has lived throughmuch, and who has stood by and seen men die around him like flies. God!If I dare only tell you half--but--"

  "Well, Mr Arnold," I asked quietly, returning to the bedside andlooking into the pinched grey face, "how do you wish me to act?"

  "I have already written it here--I wrote it on board ship, after myfirst seizure," he said, slowly drawing a crumpled and bulky envelopefrom beneath his pillow and handing it to me with trembling fingers."Will you promise not to open it until after I have been placed in thegrave, and to act as I have requested?"

  "Most certainly, Mr Arnold," was my reply. "A promise given to one whois about to pass to the Beyond is sacred."

  His thin fingers gripped my hand in silent acknowledgment. He did notspeak, but the expression in his eyes told of his profound thankfulness.I placed the letter in my breast-pocket. Something seemed to beenclosed within.

  "Go and open the bag," he whispered, after a brief silence.

  I did so, and within, to my great surprise, found two huge bundles offifty and hundred pound Bank of England notes, each packet severalinches thick and tied with faded pink tape.

  He beckoned me to bring them to him, and when I again stood near thebed, he selected one note, and then said--

  "I wish you to destroy all of them--burn them there in the grate--sothat I can watch you," and he gave vent to a harsh, unnatural laugh, ahideous laugh of despair.

  I looked at him in hesitation. The poor old fellow was surely mad. Inmy hands I held notes to the value of an enormous sum. And yet hewished to ruthlessly destroy them!

  He noticed my hesitation, and in a quick, impatient tone, asked whetherI would not carry out his wishes, at the same time handing me the notehe had taken, telling me that it was to pay for his interment.

  "As you desire," I said, with some reluctance.

  "But is it just--with so much distress here, in London--to deliberatelydestroy money like this?"

  "I have a reason, Mr Kemball, a very strong reason," he answered in alow tone.

  So I was compelled to untie the bundles, and, separating the notes,placed them in the grate and commenced a fire, which I fed on and on,until the last note had been consumed, and there remained only a gratefull of blackened tinder. I confess that I found myself wishing that Ihad the numbers of some of the notes, in order to reclaim theirequivalent from the Bank.

  The old man's wild eyes, full of unnatural fire, watched the flames diedown, and as they did so he gave a sigh of distinct relief.

  Then, with difficulty, he turned to me and, putting out his hand, said--

  "In the bag--at the bottom--you will find a sealed cylinder of metal."

  I searched as he directed, and drew forth a heavy ancient cylinder ofbronze, about a foot and a half long and three inches in diameter. Thetop had, I saw, been welded down, but a long time ago, because of thegreen corrosion about it.

  When I had carried it across to him, he looked me straight in the facewith those deep-set glassy eyes, which haunted me for long afterwards,and said--

  "I trust you with that, Mr Kemball, because--because--I feel assuredthat you will act as I direct. Do not attempt to seek--to discover whatis within. That secret must be withheld--from you. In this I hope--that you will respect my desire--I hope so, for--for your own sake."

  I held the mysterious cylinder in my hand in wonder. Evidently hetreasured it even far greater than his riches, and had brought it toLondon with some distinct purpose which he was now--owing to hisheart-trouble--unable to accomplish.

  "There are other things--other things in the bag. Bring them to me," hesaid, in a low, weak voice, speaking with the greatest difficulty.

  I brought the bag over to him and turned its contents pell-mell upon thefloor. Among the several articles of clothing were a few old letterswhich, at his direction, I burned amid the tinder of the banknotes.Then, on searching further, I found a small, and evidently very antique,statuette of a figure standing, holding a kind of spear. It was aboutseven inches high, much worn, with a square base, and of solid gold.Around it I noticed an inscription in hieroglyphics.

  "That," my dying friend managed to gasp, "is an ancient image--of theEgyptian God Osiris, son of Seb, and Nut, or Heaven and Earth, andmarried to Isis. He was held to have gone through sufferings--to havedied--to have risen again, and finally to have become the Judge of theDead, His mysteries and rites were--were the most important part ofEgyptian wisdom. The inscription upon it shows that it was made by oneMersekha, in the reign of King Radadef, in the Fourth Dynasty--or aboutthree thousand five hundred years before the Christian era. Take it foryourself, Mr Kemball," added the old man, his voice distinctly weaker."It will serve as your mascot and will perhaps remind you of thefriendless man whom you have to-day befriended."

  I stood by in silence, for I saw a distinct change had crept over him.

  I took a glass in which the doctor had placed some drug, giving meinstructions to administer it to him, and I forced a few drops of itbetween his teeth.

  The evening was warm and oppressive. Twilight was just falling, andthrough the open window came the low hum of the motor traffic a fewhundred yards away in the Strand. The hotel in which we were was aquiet, unostentatious little place in Surrey Street, to which, onleaving the ship two days before, he had persuaded me to accompany him.Some one had recommended him to go there, he said, in preference to theSavoy or Carlton.

  On board the _Miltiades_, which he had joined at Naples, he haddisplayed no outward sign of wealth--or that he possessed money to burn.Indeed, his dress was mean and s
habby, and by the wardrobe contained inhis two ragged bags, one would certainly never put him down as a man ofmeans. It is generally dangerous, however, to judge a man by hisclothes.

  The old clock of St Clement Danes struck eight, and a few moments laterthere came a low tap at the door, and the doctor again reappeared, andbent over his patient anxiously.

  He gave him a few more drops of the medicine, but the old man made animpatient gesture, and refused to swallow more.

  What request, I wondered, was contained in that crumpled and ratherbulky letter which I held in my breast-pocket?

  Outside, in the corridor, the doctor told me that the end was quitenear, and suggested that I should obtain something from him concerninghis friends.

  "Mr Arnold has already told me," I replied. "He possesses no friends."

  And at that the doctor shrugged his shoulders and descended the